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Smart Home

Alexa's in-app smart home controls just got a makeover

The app's softer, better-looking aesthetic mirrors the design trend in the Echo devices themselves.

Ry Crist/CNET

With its latest deluge of Alexa devices, Amazon abandoned much of the black, utilitarian plastic that characterized its previous generation of gadgets in favor of softer, homier designs wrapped in posh fabric. Now, the Alexa app is getting similarly softened, with refocused smart home controls and a design that isn't quite so black and bleak.

Aside from the improved aesthetics, the update rewards users who organize their smart home devices into different groups by putting those groups front and center. You'll see a separate card for each of those groups, with quick controls to turn things on and off with just a tap. Abandoning the black and white aesthetic allowed Amazon to give each card a unique color, which makes it easier to keep things straight with just a glance.

alexa-old-app-groups-and-new

The Alexa app's smart home controls used to be sparse and utilitarian-looking, as seen there on the left. Now things are a bit better looking, with more practical controls for groups of gadgets.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Tap one of the cards representing a group of lights and you'll see an expanded list of the devices in that group, with the option to toggle each individual device on or off. 

You can also tap little icons at the top that represent different categories of devices to see them all listed -- your Echo speakers, lights, plugs and so on. To add a new device or group to your setup, just tap the plus sign icon in the top corner. 

You can see a list of your smart home scenes, and the skills you've enabled.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

You can also pull up a quick list of all of your Alexa-compatible smart home scenes with the option of triggering them with a tap, as well as a list of the smart home skills you've enabled.

In addition to managing smart home groups, the new controls let you manage grouped audio, too. You can pair multiple Echo speakers together for synchronized music playback, and now, you can also do that with third-party Alexa speakers not made by Amazon. If your Echo speakers aren't too outdated, you can also create stereo audio groups, another new feature that lets you split the left and right audio channels between current-gen Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show or Echo Plus speakers, with the option of adding in the new Echo Sub for a 2.1-style bass boost.

The new redesign hits right as the first batch of new Alexa devices, including the new Echo Dot, Echo Plus and Echo Show, prepares to ship out ahead of the 2018 holiday buying season. Amazon knows that a lot of fresh eyes are about to try out the Alexa app for the first time, so sprucing things up makes sense.

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